Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Kawakawa School principal shared hard-core pornographic images with his staff

Peter Witana stored 1522 pornographic images on his school computer. Photo supplied
Peter Witana stored 1522 pornographic images on his school computer. Photo supplied

A former president of the Maori Principals Association has admitted exchanging pornographic images with other members of his staff by email.

Peter Witana, who was sacked as principal of Kawakawa Primary School in 2014, has now been censured by the Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal for storing 1522 pornographic images on his school computer, and for financial mismanagement.

He has been ordered to tell any prospective employer in the next two years of the tribunal's decision, and cannot hold a position of leadership or financial responsibility until he has satisfied the manager of teacher practice "that he understands the responsibilities of a principal and accounting for funds".

But the tribunal stopped short of cancelling his teaching licence after hearing a heartfelt plea in his defence from Te Tai Tokerau Principals Association president Pat Newman.

"We acknowledge the considerable contribution [Witana] has made to his community and to Maori education in New Zealand, and hope that he will continue his work," the tribunal said.

At the time of the tribunal hearing last October, Witana was teaching new entrants and told the tribunal "he has been loving this teaching time".

Witana was national president of the Maori Principals Association Te Akatea and designed the Maori Achievement Collaborative (MAC), which aims to provide education that embraces Maori language, culture, marae, tikanga and resources.

The initiative was adopted by the NZ Principals Federation, and is now supported by the Government in more than 100 schools throughout the country.

Witana was principal at Kawakawa for 20 years from 1994. The school serves a decile 2 community and has 189 Maori students, nine Europeans and six "others".

He was dismissed in 2014 after a new board of trustees discovered financial irregularities. It called in auditors from PwC, who found the 1522 pornographic images in 245 emails on Witana's computer.

PwC classified the images into five categories and found some were in the highest two categories of "hard-core" and "objectionable" images that were likely to be found illegal under the Films, Videos and Publications Classifications Act.

"There is no evidence that the respondent sought the images by searching sites, and so he did not 'access' the images, but he received and retained the images on the school devices," the tribunal found.

He sent the emails to 208 unique email addresses, including other staff at the school.

"He had four school-issued devices that his emails were synchronised to, and he admitted that he exchanged pornographic images by email with other members of staff," the tribunal said.

"This increased the risk of students being exposed to it."

The tribunal found that Witana also used school funds for personal purchases, including petrol cards that he issued to his wife and his mother. He always paid back these funds by the end of each year, but in 2013 he let the debt reach $10,084 before he repaid it.

He issued petrol cards to some staff, but required them to repay personal purchases within 24 hours of receiving the monthly accounts.

The school required two signatories for all cheques, but Witana signed blank cheques in advance even though the school's auditor in 2008 "strongly recommended that the practice of signing blank cheques be discontinued, pointing out that the procedure totally negated the purpose of having two persons signing cheques".

- NZ Herald

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